This presentation provided an opening look at the topic of digital-age storytelling in museums, with an emphasis on web and social media outreach and the ways in which museums can be both storytellers as well as platforms for stories. I served as moderator for the panel discussion which featured 3 other case studies from the National Museum of African American History and Culture, the National Museum of American History, and the Harpers Ferry National Historic Park.
Journey Through Hallowed Ground
The Cutting Edge of Public History: New Directions in Interpretation Symposium
March 28, 2018
During today’s session we’ll hear three short case studies of about 15 minutes each and then we’ll have a Q&A. I’m also going to provide a short overview of the topic and discuss a few web and social media projects I’ve been involved with.
http://americanhistory.si.edu/brown/ One of the first museum projects I ever worked on was an exhibition website in 2004 created for the 50th anniversary of the Brown v. Board Supreme Court decision.
http://americanhistory.si.edu/brown/history/index.htmlLike a physical exhibition it incorporated label text, objects and photos, quotes, and stories. It also included some audio and video content.
http://americanhistory.si.edu/brown/history/4-five/topeka-kansas-2.html Here is the story of Oliver Brown, whose name the Supreme Court case references.
https://www.instagram.com/stories/usnatarchives/ Fast forward 14 years. Yesterday, the U.S. National Archives (where I work) used a feature on Instagram (literally “Instagram Stories”) to share the story of Linda Brown, the daughter of Oliver Brown, who died this week.
https://www.instagram.com/stories/usnatarchives/This last screen shows some of the different approaches to storytelling in a digital age. Calls to action to learn more, hashtags to gain audiences interested in topics that are already receiving attention, and tagging of other organizations and accounts to form a more welcoming and widespread dialogue. The other difference here is that this story is being pushed to users rather than being sought out. Instagram users watch and interact with stories when they wake up, before they go to bed, in line for coffee, or on the metro. Museums are now able to make their storytelling a part of people’s everyday lives in unprecendented ways.
http://www.britishmuseum.org/PDF/storytelling_resource_changed_font_size.pdf All of the previous examples used “museum voice,” usually a curator or other expert who does not identify themselves individually. But as this guide for museums shows, everyone can tell stories.
http://americanhistory.si.edu/blog Back in 2008, I founded the blog at the National Museum of American History. It was a way for us to share stories about the museum while we were closed for a two year renovation project, but it also helped us move beyond “museum voice” and tell stories by a variety of individuals in their own voices.
http://americanhistory.si.edu/blog/2010/05/sweet-sour-memories-of-a-chinese-restaurant.html In this example, the voice is that of a curator...but what’s different about this content from a traditional museum label or publication is that it is told in a personal voice, with attribution to the individual, and even featuring photos of himself as a child. This kind of storytelling helps to humanize the institution and create more powerful connections with audiences.
http://americanhistory.si.edu/blog/10-things-exhibition-installationThe blog also enabled us to bring people behind the scenes in new ways and to showcase the work of staff (this is a collections manager) who might otherwise go unrecognized by the public.
https://web.archive.org/web/20070123182546/http://americanhistory.si.edu:80/Brown/reflections/topic.asp?p=4&s=&id=0 I went to school in Lake Charles, Louisiana during segregation. The separate but equal ideals were firmly in place. There were color and white drinking faucets, bathrooms, schools, and dining. I attended First Ward Colored Elementary School and later attended W.O.Boston High School also segregated. We had delapidated, run down, and mostly lesser facilities than those the Whites at First Ward White Elementary School possessed, we had written in books filled with racial slurs, missing pages, and generally unusable text books, they had school bus to ride in during summer and winter, as we walked froze or burned up in winter and summer to school. When we walked pass the white schools on our way to school we were called names and sometimes attacked with fist, rocks, or any thing availble to hurt us with. When attacked we we punished for fighting back. The experience was horrific and it still burns in my memory. Our principle Mrs. Williams was very strict on us and made excuses for the White's behavior, the text books, our school's general condition. We were told that this was as good as it got and that we were destined to always be treated as inferior. I almost hated her for that. We were indeed having our dreams stolen by black educators along with the racist whites in power. The schools desegregated sometime after I left Louisiana in 1963.
Technology and Media
The Cutting Edge of Public History: New Directions in Interpretation
March 28, 2018
Storytelling through Technology and Media
Exhibition Films Digital Archive of
Chief of Web and Social Media
● National Museum of American History
● National Gallery of Art
Adjunct Museum Studies faculty:
● Johns Hopkins University
● Georgetown University
Why Storytelling in Museums?
“Storytelling works because it helps the visitor create a narrative
frame on which to hang the facts and images encountered. It’s
like a structure made of Velcro just waiting to grab facts and
images onto itself. Story structure is an innate part of human
consciousness and central to the way we organize knowledge.
The visitor does not have to create something new or external to
integrate the knowledge transmitted through story. Storytelling
takes away the stress of learning and creates receptivity and
- Liz Warren, Kathy Eastman, Sandy Oglesby
The Docent Educator
* Museums = my shorthand
for institutions of public
history, art, culture,
heritage tourism, etc.
How Do Museums Tell Stories?
Who Tells Stories?
“Everyone tells stories about themselves and uses
stories to understand the world around them.
Key storytelling techniques such as setting the
scene, building to a climax, or twist in the tale, are
familiar to most of us through books and theatre.
As everyone has the capacity to tell stories it also
helps break down the division between the expert
delivering knowledge to a passive receptive
- David Francis and Sam Gayton in partnership
with the British Museum
“Over time, what digital has done is, it’s
evolved storytelling–it’s taken it away from
the hands of just authors and publishers, and
it’s brought it to everyone. So, obviously
technology made it easier for anyone to
create content ...and it also gave us
platforms that let stories spread wide and
far...methods of engagement that dwarf
everything that came before, unprecedented
ways to immerse yourself in a story, and to
offer interactive stories.”
-Samir Patel, “A Framework for Digital
Storytelling in Museums,” MuseumNext
How Is Storytelling Changing in a Digital Age?
Digital Age Storytelling “Superpowers”
“Digital-aged storytelling gives museums superpowers to
tell bigger and more complex stories—stories that cannot
be told through a single point of view. Within digital-age
storytelling, visitors are able to create their own
- Philip Tiongson and Annie Polland
See digitalstory.lestm.org for more on this topic, including
helpful framing presentations by Dr. Amelia Wong.
Why Do Stories Matter?
“...stories have the power to
change people. That change is why
we tell stories, and we tell inclusive
stories because it’s impossible to
hate someone whose story you
- Matthew Solari, “Creating the Inclusive Museum
Through Storytelling,” Museum Next
The records in the
National Archives tell
public will do with
them is limitless.
Zora Neale Hurston
There is no agony like bearing an
untold story inside you.
● British Museum. Talking Objects: Storytelling (2014)
● Patel, S. “A Framework for Digital Storytelling in Museums.” MuseumNext (2015)
● Solari, M. “Creating the Inclusive Museum Through Storytelling.” MuseumNext. (2015)
● Warren, L., Eastman, K., and Oglesby, S. “Storytelling: Invoking the Muse,” The Docent
Educator (Autumn 2003)
● Wong, A. et al. Digital Age Storytelling Toolkit (2016)